It is a mistake to suppose that any one nation or people has exclusive right to Mother Goose. She is an omnipresent old lady. She is Asiatic as well as European or American. Wherever there are mothers, grandmothers, and nurses there are Mother Gooses, -- or; shall we say, Mother Geese -- for I am at a loss as to how to pluralize this old dame. She is in India, whence I have rhymes from her, of which the following is a sample:
Heh, my baby! Ho, my baby! See the wild, ripe plum, And if you'd like to eat a few, I'll buy my baby some.
She is in Japan. She has taught the children there to put their fingers together as we do for "This is the church, this is the steeple," when she says:
A bamboo road, With a floor-mat siding, Children are quarrelling, And parents chiding,
the children" being represented by the fingers and the "parents" by the thumbs. She is in China. I have more than 600 rhymes from her Chinese collection. Let me tell you how I got them.
One hot day during my summer vacation, while sitting on the veranda of a house among the hills, fifteen miles west of Peking, my friend, Mrs. C. H. Fenn, said to me:
"Have you noticed those rhymes, Mr. Headland?"
"What rhymes?" I inquired.
"The rhymes Mrs. Yin is repeating to Henry."
"No, I have not noticed them. Ask her to repeat that one again."
Mrs. Fenn did so, and the old nurse repeated the following rhyme, very much in the tone of, "The goblins 'll git you if you don't look out."
He climbed up the candlestick, The little mousey brown, To steal and eat tallow, And he couldn't get down. He called for his grandma, But his grandma was in town, So he doubled up into a wheel, And rolled himself down.
I asked the nurse to repeat it again, more slowly, and I wrote it down together with the translation.
Now, I think it must be admitted that there is more in this rhyme to commend it to the public than there is in "Jack and Jill." If when that remarkable young couple went for the pail of water, Master Jack had carried it himself, he would have been entitled to some credit for gallantry, or if in cracking his crown he had fallen so as to prevent Miss Jill from "tumbling," or even in such a way as to break her fall and make it easier for her, there would have been some reason for the popularity of such a record. As it is, there is no way to account for it except the fact that it is simple and rhythmic and children like it. This rhyme, however, in the original, is equal to "Jack and Jill" in rhythm and rhyme, has as good a story, exhibits a more scientific tumble, with a less tragic result, and contains as good a moral as that found in "Jack Sprat."
It is as popular all over North China as "Jack and Jill" is throughout Great Britain and America. Ask any Chinese child if he knows the "Little Mouse," and he reels it off to you as readily as an English-speaking child does "Jack and Jill." Does he like it? It is a part of his life. Repeat it to him, giving one word incorrectly, and he will resent it as strenuously as your little boy or girl would if you said,
Jack and Jill Went DOWN the hill
Suppose you repeat some familiar rhyme to a child differently from the way he learned it and see what the result will be.
Having obtained this rhyme, I asked Mrs. Yin if she knew any more. She smiled and said she knew "lots of them." I induced her to tell them to me, promising her five hundred cash (about three cents) for every rhyme she could give me, good, bad, or indifferent, for I wanted to secure all kinds. And I did. Before I was through I had rhymes which ranged from the two extremes of the keenest parental affection to those of unrefined filthiness. The latter class however came not from the nurses but from the children themselves.
When I had finished with her I had a dozen or more. I soon learned these so that I could repeat them in the original, which gave me an entering wedge to the heart of every man, woman or child I met.
One day, as I rode through a broom-corn field on the back of a little donkey, my feet almost dragging on the ground, I was repeating some of these rhymes, when the driver running at my side said:
"Ha, you know those children's songs, do you?"
"Yes do you know any?"
"Lots of them," he answered.
"Lots of them" is a favorite expression with the Chinese.
"Tell me some."
"Did you ever hear this one?"
"Fire-fly, fire-fly, Come from the hill, Your father and mother Are waiting here still. They've brought you some sugar, Some candy, and meat, For baby to eat."
I at once dismounted and wrote it down, and promised him five hundred cash apiece for every new one he could give me. In this way, going to and from the city, in conversation with old nurses or servants, personal friends, teachers, parents or children, or foreign children who had been born in China and had learned rhymes from their nurses, I continued to gather them during the entire vacation, and when autumn came I had more than fifty of the most common and consequently the best rhymes known in and about Peking.
A few months after I returned to the city a circular was sent around asking for subscriptions to a volume of Pekinese Folklore, published by Baron Vitali, Interpreter at the Italian legation, which, on examination, proved to be exactly what I wanted. He had collected about two hundred and fifty rhymes, had made a literal -- not metrical -- translation and had issued them in book form without expurgation.
Others learned of my collection, and rhymes began to come to me from all parts of the empire. Dr. Arthur H. Smith, the well-known author of "Chinese Characteristics" gave me a collection of more than three hundred made in Shantung, among which were rhymes similar to those we had found in Peking. Still later I received other versions of these same rhymes from my little friend, Miss Chalfant, collected in a different part of Shantung from that occupied by Dr. Smith. I then had no fewer than five versions of
"This little pig went to market,"each having some local coloring not found in the other, proving that the fingers and toes furnish children with the same entertainment in the Orient as in the Occident, and that the rhyme is widely known throughout China.
These nursery rhymes have never been printed in the Chinese language, but like our own Mother Goose before the year 1719, if we may credit the Boston story, they are carried in the minds and hearts of the children. Here arose the first difficulty we experienced in collecting rhymes -- the matter of getting them complete. Few are able to repeat the whole of the
"House that Jack built"
although it has been printed many times and they learned it all in their youth. The difficulty is multiplied tenfold in China where the rhymes have never been printed, and where there have grown up various versions from one original which the nurse had, no doubt, partly forgotten, but was compelled to complete for the entertainment of the child.
A second difficulty in making such a collection is that of getting unobjectionable rhymes. While the Chinese classics are among the purest classical books of the world, there is yet a large proportion of the people who sully everything they take into their hands as well as every thought they take into their minds. Thus so many of their rhymes have suffered.
Some have an undertone of reviling. Some speak familiarly of subjects which we are not accustomed to mention, and others are impure in the extreme.
A third difficulty in making a collection of Chinese nursery lore is greater than either the first or the second, -- I refer to the difficulty of a metrical rendition of the rhymes. I have no doubt my readers can easily find flaws in my translations of Chinese Mother Goose Rhymes published during the past year. It is much easier for me to find the flaws than the remedies. Many of the words used in the original have no written character or hieroglyphic to represent them, while many others, though having a written form, are, like our own slang expressions, not found in the dictionary.
Now let us turn to a more pleasant feature of this unwritten nursery literature. The language is full of good rhymes, and all objectionable features can be cut out without injury to the rhyme, as it was not a part of the original, but added by some more unscrupulous hand.
Among the nursery rhymes of all countries many refer to insects, birds, animals, persons, actions, trades, food or children. In Chinese rhymes we have the cricket, cicada, spider, snail, firefly, ladybug and butterfly and others. Among fowls we have the bat, crow, magpie, cock, hen, duck and goose. Of animals, the dog, cow, horse, mule, donkey, camel, and mouse, are the favorites. There are also rhymes on the snake and frog, and others without number on places, things and persons, -- men, women and children.
Those who hold that the Chinese do not love their children have never consulted their nursery lore. There is no language in the world, I venture to believe, which contains children's songs expressive of more keen and tender affection than some of those sung to children in China.
When we hear a parent say that his child
"Is as sweet as sugar and cinnamon too,"
"Baby is a sweet pill, That fills my soul with joy"
or when we see a father, mother or nurse -- for nurses sometimes become almost as fond of their little charge as the parents themselves, -- hugging the child to their bosoms as they say that he is so sweet that "he makes you love him till it kills you," we begin to appreciate the affection that prompts the utterance.
Another feature of these rhymes is the same as that found in the nursery songs of all nations, namely, the food element. "Jack Sprat," "Little Jacky Horner," "Four and Twenty Black-birds," "When Good King Arthur Ruled the Land," and a host of others will indicate what I mean. A little child is a highly developed stomach, and anything which tells about something that ministers to the appetite and tends to satisfy that aching void, commends itself to his literary taste, and hence the popularity of many of our nursery rhymes, the only thought of which is about something good to eat. Notice the following:
Look at the white breasted crows overhead. My father shot once and ten crows tumbled dead. When boiled or when fried they taste very good, But skin them, I tell you, there's no better food.
In imagination I can see the reader raise his eyebrows and mutter, "Do the Chinese eat crows?" while at the same time he has been singing all his life about what a "dainty dish" "four and twenty blackbirds" would make for the "king," without ever raising the question as to whether blackbirds are good eating or not.
We note another feature of all nursery rhymes in the additions made by the various persons through whose hands, -- or should we say, through whose mouths they pass.
When an American or English child hears how a certain benevolent dame found no bone in her cupboard to satisfy the cravings of her hungry dog, its feelings of compassion are stirred up to ask: "And then what? Didn't she get any meat? Did the dog die?" and the nurse is compelled to make another verse to satisfy the curiosity of the child and bring both the dame and the dog out of the dilemma in which they have been left. This is what happened in the case of "Old Mother Hubbard" as will readily be seen by examining the meter of the various verses. The original "Mother Hubbard" consisted of nothing more than the first six lines which contain three rhymes. All the other verses have but four lines and one rhyme.
We find the same thing in Chinese Mother Goose. Take the following as an example:
He ate too much, That second brother, And when he had eaten his fill
He beat his mother.
This was the original rhyme. Two verses have been added without rhyme, reason, rhythm, sense or good taste. They are as follows:
His mother jumped up on the window-sill, But the window had no crack, She then looked into the looking-glass, But the mirror had no back.
Then all at once she began to sing, But the song it had no end And then she played the monkey trick And to heaven she did ascend.
The moral teachings of nursery rhymes are as varied as the morals of the people to whom the rhymes belong. The "Little Mouse" already given contains both a warning and a penalty. The mouse which had climbed up the candle- stick to steal tallow was unable to get down. This was the penalty for stealing, and indicates to children that if they visit the cupboard in their mother's absence and take her sweetmeats without her permission, they may suffer as the mouse did. To leave the mouse there after he had repeatedly called for that halo-crowned grandmother, who refused to come, would have been too much for the child's sympathies, and so the mouse doubles himself up into a wheel, and rolls to the floor.
In other rhymes, children are warned against stealing, but the penalty threatened is rather an indication of the untruthfulness of the parent or nurse than a promise of reform in the child, for they are told that,
If you steal a needle Or steal a thread, A pimple will grow Upon your head.
If you steal a dog Or steal a cat, A pimple will grow Beneath your hat.
Boys are warned of the dire consequences if they wear their hats on the side of their heads or go about with ragged coats or slipshod feet.
If you wear your hat on the side of your head, You'll have a lazy wife, 'tis said. If a ragged coat or slipshod feet, You'll have a wife who loves to eat.
Those rhymes which manifest the affection of parents for children cultivate a like affection in the child. We have in the Chinese Mother Goose a rhyme called the Little Orphan, which is a most pathetic tale. A little boy tells us that,
Like a little withered flower, That is dying in the earth, I was left alone at seven By her who gave me birth.
With my papa I was happy But I feared he'd take another, But now my papa's married, And I have a little brother.
And he eats good food, While I eat poor, And cry for my mother, Whom I'll see no more.
Such a rhyme cannot but develop the pathetic and sympathetic instincts of the child, making it more kind and gentle to those in distress.
A girl in one of the rhymes urged by instinct and desire to chase a butterfly, gives up the idea of catching it, presumably out of a feeling of sympathy for the insect.
Unfortunately all their rhymes do not have this same high moral tone. They indicate a total lack of respect for the Buddhist priests. This is not necessarily against the rhyme any more than against the priest, but it is an unfortunate disposition to cultivate in children. There are constant sallies at the shaved noddle of the priest. They speak of his head as a gourd, and they class him with the tiger as a beast of prey.
Some of the rhymes illustrate the disposition of the Chinese to nickname every one, from the highest official in the empire to the meanest beggar on the street. One of the great men of the present dynasty, a prime minister and intimate friend of the emperor, goes by the name of Humpbacked Liu. Another may be Cross-eyed Wang, another Club-footed Chang, another Bald-headed Li. Any physical deformity or mental peculiarity may give him his nickname. Even foreigners suffer in reputation from this national bad habit.
A man whose face is covered with pockmarks is ridiculed by children in the following rhyme, which is only a sample of what might be produced on a score of other subjects:
Old pockmarked Ma, He climbed up a tree, A dog barked at him, And a man caught his knee, Which scared old Poxey Until he couldn't see.
A well-known characteristic of the Chinese is to do things opposite to the way in which we do them. We accuse them of doing things backwards, but it is we who deserve such blame because they antedated us in the doing of them. We shake each other's hands, they each shake their own hands. We take off our hats as a mark of respect, they keep theirs on. We wear black for mourning, they wear white. We wear our vests inside, they wear theirs outside. A hundred other things more or less familiar to us all, illustrate this rule. In some of their nursery rhymes everything is said and done on the "cart before the horse" plan. This is illustrated by a rhyme in which when the speaker heard a disturbance outside his door he discovered it was because a "dog had been bitten by a man." Of course, he at once rushed to the rescue. He "took up the door and he opened his hand." He "snatched up the dog and threw him at a brick." The brick bit his hand and he left the scene "beating on a horn and blowing on a drum."
Tongue twisters are as common in Chinese as in English, and are equally appreciated by the children. From the nature of such rhymes, however, it is impossible to translate them into any other language. In one of these children's songs, a cake-seller informs the public in stentorian tones that his wares will restore sight to the blind and that
They cure the deaf and heal the lame, And preserve the teeth of the aged dame.
They will further cause hair to grow on a bald head and give courage to a henpecked husband. A girl who has been whipped by her mother mutters to herself how she would love and serve a husband if she only had one, even going to the extent of calling that much-despised mother-in-law her mother, and when overheard by her irate parent and asked what she was saying, she answers:
I was saying the beans are boiling nice And it's just about time to add the rice.
These are rather an indication of good cheer on the part of the children than lack of filial affection. A parent must be cruel indeed to make a girl willing to give up her mother for a mother-in-law.
Another style of verses comes under the head of pure nonsense rhymes. They are wholly without sense and I am not sure they are good nonsense. They are popular, however, with the children, and critics may say what they will, but the children are the last court of appeal in case of nursery rhymes. Let me give one:
There's a cow on the mountain, the old saying goes, On her legs are four feet, on her feet are eight toes. Her tail is behind on the end of her back, And her head is in front on the end of her neck.
The Chinese nursery is well provided with rhymes pertaining to certain portions of the body. They have rhymes to repeat when they play with the five fingers, and others when they pull the toes; rhymes when they take hold of the knee and expect the child to refrain from laughing, no matter how much its knee is tickled; rhymes which correspond to all our face and sense; rhymes where the forehead represents the door and the five senses various other things, ending, of course, by tickling the child's neck.
All of these have called forth rhymes among Chinese children similar to "little pig went to market," "forehead bender, eye winker," etc. The parent, or the nurse, taking hold of the toes of the child, repeats the following rhyme, as much to the amusement of the little Oriental as the "little pig" has always been to our own children:
This little cow eats grass, This little cow eats hay, This little cow drinks water, This little cow runs away, This little cow does nothing, Except lie down all day. We'll whip her.
And, with that, she playfully pats the little bare foot. If it is the hand that is played with the fingers are taken hold of one after another, as the parent, or nurse, repeats the following rhyme:
This one's old, This one's young This one has no meat; This one's gone To buy some hay, And this one's on the street.
There are various forms of this rhyme, depending upon the place where it is found. The above is the Shantung version. In Peking it is as follows:
A great, big brother, And a little brother, too, A big bell tower, And a temple and a show, And little baby wee, wee, Always wants to go.
The following rhyme explains itself: The nurse knocks on the forehead, then touches the eye, nose, ear, mouth and chin successively, as she repeats:
Knock at the door, See a face, Smell an odor, Hear a voice, Eat your dinner, Pull your chin, or Ke chih, ke chih.
Tickling the child's neck with the last two expressions.
We have in English a rhyme:
If you be a gentleman, As I suppose you be, You'll neither laugh nor smile With a tickling of your knee.
I had tried many months to find if there were any finger, face or body games other than those already given. Our own nurse insisted that she knew of none, but one day I noticed her grabbing my little girl's knee, while she was saying:
One grab silver, Two grabs gold, Three don't laugh, And you'll grow old.
There is no literature in China, not even in the sacred books, which is so generally known as their nursery rhymes. These are understood and repeated by the educated and the illiterate alike; by the children of princes and the children of beggars; children in the city and children in the country and villages, and they produce like results in the minds and hearts of all. The little folks laugh over the Cow, look sober over the Little Orphan, absorb the morals taught by the Mouse, and are sung to sleep by the song of the Little Snail.
Sometimes however they, like children in other lands, are skeptical as to the reality of the stories told in the songs. Thus I remember once hearing our old nurse telling a number of stories and singing a number of songs to the little folk in the nursery. They had accepted one after another the legends as they rolled off the old woman's tongue, without question, but pretty soon she gave them a version of a Wind Song which aroused their incredulity. She sang:
Old grandmother Wind has come from the East. She's ridden a donkey -- a dear little beast. Old mother-in-law Rain has come back again. She's come from the North on a horse, it is plain.
Old grandmother Snow is coming you know, From the West on a crane -- just see how they go. And old aunty Lightning has come from the South, On a big yellow dog with a bit in his mouth.
"There is no grandmother Wind, is there, nurse?"
"No, of course not, people only call her grandmother Wind."
"Why do they call the other mother-in-law Rain?"
"I suppose, because mothers-in-law are often disagreeable, just like rainy weather."
"And why do they speak of snow and the crane, and lightning and a yellow dog?"
"I suppose, because a crane is somewhat the color of snow, and a yellow dog swift and the color of lightning."